Why the UN wants you to hit the road this World Bicycle Day

At first it was a joke that if inflation rises any higher, the upwardly mobile in South Africa would have to trade their German four-wheel drives for a set of two wheels. But it’s safe to say, the joke is on us. Besides the virtuous musings around the environment and going green, the reality is that most households in South Africa earn just more than R20 000 a month and yet they actually need north of R45 000 to survive in Mzansi. Learning how to cycle to work may go from being a joke to an actual aspiration. 

That being said, a good number of South African cities (excluding the Republic of Cape Town) don’t have bike lanes or places to park bikes. Cyclists are competing with pedestrians on pavements and minibus taxi drivers on the emergency yellow lanes. We still have a long way to go. The law states: “You can only ride your bicycle on the footpath, unless a no bicycles sign is present’. 

On 12 April 2018, The United Nations declared 3 June as World Bicycle Day. The day draws attention to the benefits of cycling. It all started when professor Leszek Sibilski initiated a grassroots campaign with his sociology class to promote a UN resolution that would designate a day for the advocacy and celebration of the humble bicycle. Sibilski dedicated himself to an academic project, exploring bicycles and their role in development.

The impact of the bicycle on society is quite transformative – even the poorest people get access to basic transport with the bicycle. A sustainable and reliable transport system that reduces inequality is critical in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In South Africa we witness the far-reaching impact of the bicycle with charity organisations such as Qhubeka. The organisation runs programmes such as “learn-to-earn” that provide bicycles for school children – helping them get to and from school and thereby improving their attendance and performance. Qhubeka also provides bicycles for first responders following a disaster – bicycles can be used to transport life-saving services and gear. 

Many advancements have been made to the bicycle since it was invented in 1817 by German-born Baron Karl von Drais. From the use of aluminium frames to e-bikes, here’s our list of top ten bicycle brands to invest in

Specialized: Initially the company was only focused on creating bicycle parts but in 1981 they released their own bicycle line. While many US brands are just now launching e-bikes, Specialized has been leading the charge with their Turbo Levo ​​(retailing at  R100 000 to R220 000) for years and recently went the next step to partner with non-profit Call2Recycle to create a system for recycling all its e-bike batteries sold in the US. In 2001, Merida bought 49% of Specialized bikes. 

Giant: Founded in 1972, this Taiwanese brand is one of the largest bike manufacturers, producing bike frames for many of the world’s top cycling brands and bringing a revenue of $2.85 billion in 2021. Due to the size of the company, they launched a sub-brand, Liv Cycling in 2008, which is a women’s only cycling brand that features bikes and apparel designed for women by women. 

Scott: Scott is a Swiss producer of sportswear, winter equipment, motorsports gear and bicycles, of course. The company’s founder Ed Scott began the company when he engineered an aluminium ski pole that worked better than previous bamboo and steel models. One significant innovation that they introduced to cycling is the clip-on aerodynamic handlebar. Greg LeMond used this handlebar when he won the 1989 Tour De France. ​​Scott has a variety of bikes available in South Africa, the 2022 model Scott Spark 970 retails at R46 900.

Trek Bicycle Corporation: Located in Wisconsin in the US, the company’s popular model lines are Fuel Ex ​ and Supercaliber (The Supercaliber 9.8 GX and the Fuel Ex 9.8 GX  both retail for R110 000). Well liked because of their expansive range of models and build kits, as well as the lifetime warranty on their frames. They produce top-notch bikes across most price ranges. Not very innovative, however, they win points for allowing you to fully customise your bike. 

Silverback: Established in 2004 in Germany, the brand has expanded over the years and now has a base in Cape Town. Silverback bikes are German engineered to produce high quality bikes for recreational and experienced riders without breaking the bank (the 2022 Silverback S-Electro Comp Sl Hardtail E-Mountain Bike is R60 000). They also have a kiddies bike range. 

Merida: Founded in 1972 by Ike Tseng. When Tseng died in January 2012, his son Michael Tseng became the company’s president. After making bicycle parts for numerous other brands, the company established its own bicycle line. They are especially well known among commuters/fitness cyclists and road cyclists. The name Merida derives roughly from the translation of its three syllables ma-ri-da, which mirror the company’s goal to manufacture bikes that enable the customer to reach their destination.

Cannondale: Cannondale is known for its unique approach to building and designing bicycles. In the 1990s, when most other companies were still building bike frames out of steel, Cannondale took a different approach with  their use of oversized aluminium tubing. Popular models are Trail and Scalpel.  

Titan Racing: Started in 2005 by Robbie Luis, Titan is a South African brand with bikes retailing between R8 000 and R100 000. The Stellenbosch-based company offers a comprehensive range of bicycles from a children’s range to carbon road bikes. Titan Racing is a strong competitor in the entry to mid-level bike market in Africa. 

Momsen: Momsen Bikes is a bike manufacturer based in Gqeberha. Their bikes retail between R9 000 and R50 000, with the popular Momsen 2021 Vipa Trail 29 selling for R44 795. 

Santan Cruz: This brand was created in 1993 by Rob Roskopp, Mike Marquez and Rich Novak. In 1994 they created their first mountain bike which they named the “Tazmon ”. It was the first bike with a single pivot design (a simple form of rear suspension). In 2015 the Santa Cruz bicycle brand was sold to Pon Holdings, a conglomerate that includes other bicycle brands such as Focus, Cervélo and Royal Dutch Gazelle.

It is difficult to ignore how a focus on cycling will enhance society by making it easier for people to access basic services. Cycling can contribute to reducing larger societal troubles such as road congestion, climate change and the disastrous public transport system in South Africa. We won’t even mention – again – the dire economic situation. Spread the word and get those endorphins pumping by hitting the pavement this World Bicycle Day.

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Gugu Tshabalala
Gugulethu Tshabalala, is a multi-talented creative and jewellery designer with a background in public relations. She believes there is an artist in all of us and hopes to evoke emotion utilising different mediums

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